Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 5 No. 3 | Fall 1983 (Seattle) /// Issue 5 of 24 /// Master# 53 of 73

small dark silhouettes of Sandinista soldiers, waving their rifles in greeting as under their protection we move along the road. When we finally arrive in Jalapa, and during our stay at “the front,” the battle we’d been psychologically preparing for never transpires. Though contra strength has grown in recent times, as both covert and overt U.S. funds have poured in to fuel the destabilization program, the Somocistas were incapable of breaching the Sandinista defenses. More than 500 deaths have been attributed to the ex-Somoza forces. The majority of those killed have been unarmed civilians. The Nicaraguan government and people are keenly aware that the U.S. government and media are painting a bleak and distorted picture of this country and its popular revolution. And while the preparations for our visit emphasized the positive, what we heard and saw stands in marked contrast to the grim reality of life elsewhere in the Latin America. While we have read at home about the “turn to totalitarianism” of the Nicaraguan leadership and the subsequent disillusionment of the people with their government, our journey to Jalapa, along with other experiences we have had during our stay in Nicaragua, has shown us the strength, solidarity and commitment of the people here. We are impressed and moved over and over again by the efforts of mothers, soldiers, peasants, priests and even children to convey to us what it means to defend their hard-won freedom. We are asked too many times to count, to go back home and tell their story. “Is it Communism, Socialism, Marxism?” said the Catholic priest in Jalapa. “ I don’t care what we call it. But now children don’t die as much as they did before. The people are healthy. Everyone can study. And the whole of our people want peace. Here the weapons aren’t to kill, but to defend. This small but heroic country, for so many years under a dictatorship, is building a new society.” The Jalapa priest has hit upon the most important lesson of our journey. While we have learned about the Nicaraguan revolution—its broad-based support, its humanity and hopefulness — we have also seen its threat to the Reagan Administration. Here in this poor and underdeveloped nation, simple people have crafted the tools to forge their own destiny and are working to build a society for the good of all. But what about the other Nicaraguans, the ones opposed to the Sandinista government? What about Eden Pastora, Alfonso Robelo, the cooking oil millionaire who resigned from the Junta in 1980, and Managua’s Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo? “Sure, there are people who are unhappy,” says a Nicaraguan woman who I meet in the airport with her two small children. “For people with money, life isn’t better. They have to wait in the lines like everyone else. But the majority of Nicaraguans are very poor and very simple people. All they want is a house, some food, to be able to raise their children. It’s their revolution. Revolutions aren’t for rich people.” For everyone in Nicaragua, life is hard. The country has been hit by the same economic difficulties—higher costs for imports, such as oil, and lower prices for exports—as every other third world nation, with the added stress of reconstruction and those brought about by the U.S. aggressions. At the same time, the Sandinista government must try to meet the needs of the majority, who fought for a better life. “I don’t like waiting in line for gas,” said a taxi driver when we asked his opinion of the Sandinistas. “But I guess it’s okay, because now at least more people have a chance to get some.” In general, the Sandinistas have attempted to minimize the difficulties while explaining the causes, working toward solutions and asking for the support and participation of the people. By and large, they have succeeded. There is, nevertheless, some discontent, and it is this that the Reagan Administration exploits in trying to drum up support for its covert war. “One must not forget that we Sandinistas did not make fundamental promises to the United States, to whom we never made any type of promises, nor to Nicaragua’s privileged groups,” said Sergio Ramirez, a member of the Nicar- aquan Government Junta of National Reconstruction. “The basic promises were made to the country’s poorest people, the promises that they have defended with weapons and their heroism. The original project is still there, growing and being multiplied for those people, in the cooperatives, schools, health centers, land, dignity and sovereignty. There was never any other revolutionary project besides this one; this was the original project.” Reagan maintains that the Sandinistas, through arms shipments and heavy Cuban and Soviet backing, are exporting revolution to El Salvador and eventually to the rest of Central America. While the Sandinistas readily admit their support for the FMLN forces fighting to overthrow the repressive Salvadoran military dictatorship, they also vehemently deny ever providing any military assistance to those forces. Such support would not only be an economic drain on a country already struggling to meet its basic needs, but would also constitute the justification the Reagan Administration is looking for to militarily invade Nicaragua. ‘‘We export the news that in Nicaragua the revolution has brought with it literacy, agrarian reform, an end to poliomyelitis, the right to life and hope,” Sergio Ramirez proudly declares. “How can one prevent a peasant from another Central American country from hearing, from finding out, from realizing that in Nicaragua land is given to other poor and barefoot peasants like him? How can you avoid his realizing that here children are being vaccinated while his children still die of gastroenteritis and polio?” We are standing in a large soccer field amidst numerous Sandinista Army and popular militia battalions who are being decorated for their valiant efforts here on the war’s frontlines. The hill directly in front of us at the end of the soccer field is being guarded by Sandinista soldiers. It is this hill that the contras run down when they attack the people of Jalapa. From two hills directly behind this one, which are both in Honduran territory, the contras shoot mortars into the small houses that surround this field. We are told that this ceremony, by being held at the center of contra operations, is a showing of strength by the Sandinista Army to the Somocista forces. It is also a display of the will of a people who, in their firm commitment to freedom, state unequivocally, Patria Libre o Morir (Free Homeland or Death), a people who in response to the border incursions aimed at destroying their hard-won freedoms simply say, No pasaran (They shall not pass). ■ Patty Somlo is a Seattle writer and co- ' founder of CANTO. Clinton St. Quarterly 31